Sarah Entine is a advocate. She’s also the director of an award-winning film called Read Me Differently. Her documentary looks at the impact learning and thinking differences have had on three generations of her family.
In this interview, Entine shares why she made the film. She also offers her thoughts on how to bring families closer together.
1. When did you learn you had dyslexia?
I was originally identified with dyslexia in the late 1970s. It was at the end of first grade. I’m not sure if the specific term dyslexia was ever used. The school said I had some type of learning disability.
In any case, I never fully understood what dyslexia was until my late 20s. At the time, I was in graduate school for social work. Our class got a confusing assignment that I simply couldn’t understand. It was so convoluted, I ended up crying and feeling incredibly frustrated and confused. It got me thinking about why I had struggled with reading and expressing myself all these years.
By chance, I was able to reconnect with my elementary school tutor. She and I started talking about my childhood. And I just had this “aha” moment that made sense — I had dyslexia and I needed to learn about it.
2. Why did you make the film, Read Me Differently?
After I spoke to my former tutor, I became obsessed with wanting to understand my experience. I began researching the term dyslexia and everything that went with it. What is this thing? How does it apply to me? What does this mean for my life?
I went online and started reading. It was ironic that to learn about dyslexia meant I had to read about it! So I thought to myself, there should be films on dyslexia.
I moved to California and met the late filmmaker Lori Hope. She encouraged me to just start interviewing my family to see what happens. So I started with my mother and my grandmother. As I talked to them, I realized they too might have learning and thinking differences. That’s when the film was born.
3. How has dyslexia affected you and your family?
With dyslexia, so many of my issues weren’t in the classroom. In fact, I got the help I needed in school. The issues were with family and friends. I was just out of sync. I couldn’t recall information as fast as they could. When speaking, I would sometimes start a story or thought in the middle. My difficulties really caused a divide in my relationships. No one seemed to understand what I was going through.
In the process of making the film, I also spent a lot of time with my grandmother. She reads very slowly and is disorganized. No one had ever asked her why. And it was apparent to me that not only did she have a possible learning difference, but that her issue was a source of tension with my mother.
So there were these barriers between us. We weren’t talking about them and that resulted in a lot of misunderstanding and anger. In the film, our family tries to take on these issues.
4. What advice would you give to parents of children with learning and thinking differences?
Understanding is love. This is a saying I heard from the well-known meditation teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh. It always resonates with me. The more we feel understood, the more connected and accepted we feel. When we’re understood, we feel loved and seen and of value.
As a child who grew up with dyslexia, that would be my advice to parents. The most important thing is to understand your child’s experience. And that means being able to turn towards difficult and unpleasant feelings. Understanding is love because we are allowing the fullness of life to present itself, even if it’s uncomfortable.
For parents, this also means understanding ourselves. What do we want? What are our intentions and motivations? How do we face the difficulties in our lives?
That last question is very important. How we work with difficulties directly impacts how we parent our children who are facing their own learning and processing challenges. Can we accept and allow for our own uncomfortable feelings? What strategies do we use in these situations? Can we offer ourselves self-compassion when times are hard?
In my experience, my family was on automatic pilot. There was too much emphasis on trying to fix things, and not enough on simply understanding.
5. Do you think people with dyslexia need to tell their stories?
Yes, definitely. One of my favorite quotes is from Maya Angelou. She said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
To me, each one of us has a story to tell and each story is a piece of the learning and thinking difference puzzle. I’m a big fan of the mentoring organization, Eye to Eye. They are doing such amazing work transforming the lives of countless kids with learning differences. I love how they embrace the idea of telling your story.
Nowadays, the catchphrase is social and emotional learning and how to cultivate resilience. I think these are the themes of my film.
Read Me Differently isn’t just a simple story of triumph over adversity — like Sarah gets her social work degree and everything is just fine. Instead, the film is about taking on the challenges of dyslexia and ADHD head on. When you do that, you realize it’s not the end of the world. It’s not easy, but you can do this.